Indian Union Muslim League’s (IUML) website refers to the party’s role in national politics thus: “The Muslim League Kerala State Committee is the only Muslim community-catering organisation that has maintained a steady presence in the Indian parliament since its inception.”
Formed in 1948, IUML has so far had representatives in each Lok Sabha, except the second. However, the party has failed to represent the bulk of the Muslim population in the country as its presence has been limited to Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Mumbai for a brief while.
Then who represents the Indian Muslims in the parliament and on the streets? While the Popular Front of India’s (PFI) radical politics which flexed its sinews in Karnataka and Kerala suffered a setback with a five-year-long ban announced in 2022, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) seems to be taking a step forward.
AIMIM, led by National President Asaduddin Owaisi, will host its first national convention in Mumbai, Maharashtra on 25 and 26 February.
The convention will not be an attempt to replace the Muslim League but an effort to define the future of Muslim politics in the country.
What Will Happen at the National Convention?
At the outset, AIMIM’s convention is rather ordinary as it offers merely a meeting place for MPs, MLAs, MLCs, and state and district leaders of the party. Organised by AIMIM’s Maharashtra MP Imtiyaz Jaleel, the stage in Mumbai will be set for an interaction between National President and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi and workers of the party.
But the convention is of significance beyond its immediate impact as it is being held a year before the 2024 Lok Sabha election.
“We are now pan-India,” AIMIM’s Maharashtra MP Imtiyaz Jaleel told The Quint. “We have the need to come together and decide how to take the party forward.” Meaning, though it is still a state party as per the election commission records, the AIMIM now identifies as a national party.
Reason, AIMIM which was once a party restricted to Hyderabad has been making forays into the national political scene since 2012, when it first contested in Maharashtra civic polls. Over the last decade, the party has contested polls at various levels – from civic bodies to Legislative Assemblies and Lok Sabha – in Bihar, Karnataka, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh. “We are expected to contest polls in the upcoming elections in Jharkhand and Rajasthan,” a senior leader of the party said.
Beyond venturing out from Hyderabad, where it has one MP (Asaduddin Owaisi) and seven MLAs, the party has tasted victory in both Maharashtra and Bihar.
In Maharashtra, it currently has two MLAs and one MP (Imtiyaz Jaleel). In Bihar, while it won five Assembly seats in 2020, four of its MLAs defected to Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in 2022.
“We have some concerns which will be discussed at the convention. For example, we had huge response from the public in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh but we could not win in these states. We want to know why. This convention is about listening to all from the party,” Jaleel said, translating AIMIM’s effort to further expand the party.
Representing Muslims Sans the ‘Muslim Party’ Image
Though the party’s immediate aim is to strengthen itself for electoral win, it remains to be seen whether AIMIM can represent the Muslims in India beyond what the IUML did. That is, can AIMIM produce more than two national leaders in Delhi? Will the party become synonymous with Muslim politics in India? For the AIMIM leadership, these are complicated questions.
“Our leader Asaduddin Owaisi has already said that we will not contest elections where the Muslim League is strong. We are not trying to take their place,” Imtiyaz Jaleel said.
In fact, AIMIM does not want to be a party for Muslims alone anymore, conversations The Quint had in the past with the party leaders revealed. Apart from Muslims, the party wants to represent the “oppressed sections” – the Dalit-Bahujan.
Meaning, AIMIM aspires to meet the tough target of winning over the marginalised SC, ST and OBC voters, whom the Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party and other national parties too have been wooing. This, notwithstanding the fact that the party’s only successful attempt in this direction was to forge a short-lived alliance with Prakash Ambedkar’s Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) in Maharashtra in 2019. In Bihar, it aligned with Upendra Kushwaha's RLSP and the Bahujan Samaj Party for the 2020 Assembly poll.
Despite its yearning to form broader alliances that represent a range of causes, AIMIM has mostly been viewed as a party representing Muslim voters with both BJP and Congress projecting this image of the party.
Perhaps, the image also has to do with the party President Asaduddin Owaisi who is the most recognised Muslim voice in the country – with millions of followers on social media and scores of Television channels wanting his bites.
Owaisi, who is a vocal critic of the BJP, and of late the Congress, has often been a lone voice to foreground concerns of Muslims in India – from questioning the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) to condemning most atrocities committed against the Muslim populace.
Given this stature of AIMIM leadership, thanks to the lack of stronger Muslim political voices in the country, the party will find it tough to shed its image as a political outfit predominantly representing the Muslims. Also, Muslims form AIMIM’s primary vote base.
The national convention, however, will try to remold the party’s national ambition.
AIMIM’s National Ambition Beyond Elections
So far, the AIMIM's national expansion has been entirely dependent on the Assembly and local body elections it has fought in states other than Telangana, from 2012 to 2022. At the Lok Sabha level, it fought only three seats in 2019 - Owaisi's stronghold Hyderabad in Telangana, Aurangabad in Maharashtra and Kishanganj in Bihar. It won two and gave a good fight in the third.
Now, the party is on its way to define its national voice, and in the process chart the way forward for Muslim politics in India.
“What we need to do right now is to find an organisational set up and even have a national office,” AIMIM MP Imtiaz Jaleel said. But the AIMIM is still synonymous with the Owaisi brothers – MLA Akbaruddin Owaisi and MP Asaduddin Owaisi, Jaleel admitted.
“There cannot be a replacement for them. But we want all our leaders to mingle with the national leaders including Asaduddin Owaisi. There should be a proper channel between the national leadership and the workers of the party,” he added.
Meaning, the AIMIM will be centered around the Owaisi family but the headquarters of the party need not be Hyderabad anymore. Will an AIMIM national office come up in Delhi soon?
If it does, AIMIM will be closer to outdoing the IUML. In fact, if it makes Delhi the centre of its political ambition, AIMIM would take a course opposite to that travelled by IUML, a party which moved from the national political scene to the regional. Is taking flight from home boroughs to reach Delhi, the way forward for Muslim politics in India?